Alex Massie

The Blarney Festival Arrives Again

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Faith and begorrah it's that time of year again. Time, that is, for the kind of "virulent eruptions of Paddyism" that, in the words of Ireland's greatest newspaper columnist, is another form of "the claptrap that has made fortunes for cute professional Irishmen in America." Yes it's St Patrick's Day and Myles na Gopaleen's withering verdict on the nonsense of professional Irishism remains about the best there is.

These days, mind you, it's gone so far that you can no longer easily determine what's pastiche and what's become parody. In a curious way, the celebrations in New York, Chicago and Boston are the real deal and it's the attempts to emulate them in Ireland that are the most ridiculous part of the entire shenanigans. The American stuff, while still enjoyably absurd, is at least real fakery; the Irish end of the bargain is the fake fakery.

At least that's how I recall it being when I was a student in Dublin in the mid-1990s. Back then we scoffed at the sillyness and chafed at the invasion of the pubs by twice-a-year amateur enthusiasts. But that was a long time ago now and perhaps things have changed and it's all now well-enough established to have gained a veneer of decency. Who knows?

Then again, recent regrettable developments in Ireland may persuade more people to adopt the ideas Myles (writing as Flann O'Brien in this instance) castigated in The Poor Mouth: a place where a mother might take "a bucket full of muck, mud, and ashes and hens' droppings from the roadside and spread it around the hearth, gladly in front of me. When everything was arranged, I moved over near the fire and for five hours I became a child in the ashes — a raw youngster rising up according to the old Gaelic tradition."

After all, this was the Ireland that came to be celebrated on Paddy's Day, not the prosperous, successful, happier place of recent years.

Then again, who are we to mock the Irish? As any trip to Edinburgh's Royal Mile will demonstrate, few folk can teach the Scots anything when it comes to selling tat that often bears only a passing relationship to actual history and is, most of the time, almost as embarrassing as it is now unavoidable. But when the legends become fact they may as well be printed and, in the end, accepted. Perhaps it's a proof of the success of St Patrick's Day that this is now more or less true of it too. Resistance is futile so the whole travi-sham-mockery might as well be embraced.

So, yeah, happy Paddy's Day everyone. I guess.

UPDATE: Dara Lind ain't convinced by the Paddery either. But, again, it's the bizarre Irish embrace of an ersatz view of Irishness that is the really odd aspect of the matter.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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